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Agriculture a better investment than cars

National Party MPs said government support to develop Australia’s agricultural assets would be a better investment than subsidising foreign car makers, after General Motors and Toyota said they may seek additional taxpayer assistance.

“It stands to reason that we are more likely to be exporting food to South-East Asia than exporting cars,” said Senator Barnaby Joyce.

“[But] I don’t have a choice; nor do I have any sign of a government that is willing to make the small steps towards a better future in agriculture. I do believe Australia should have a manufacturing industry.”

Senator Joyce said the benefits of investment in agriculture were obvious. “If people from overseas can see the future in Australian agriculture and they’re gaining a substantial foothold in the prime sections of Australian agriculture, then there should be a flashing light going off for the rest of Australia.”

General Motors and Toyota said on Tuesday they may ask for additional money on top of the estimated $1 billion they have received in the past decade to revamp engine plants and explore new local models.

National Party Leader Warren Truss said the Labor government had halved the budget of the Department of Agriculture from $3.8 billion to $1.7 billion since 2007.

He said the car industry would get an immediate boost under a Coalition government with the abolition of the carbon tax.

The Coalition remained committed to its $1 billion for the Automotive Transformation Scheme, Mr Truss said.

“Asia will increasingly look outwards for others to fill the food void and we are uniquely positioned on their doorstep,” he said.

“But we, as a nation, need to be geared for growth if our farmers are to achieve their potential. That means investing in agriculture and regional infrastructure.”

Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson admitted the automotive manufacturing industry will not survive without government funding.

“I am strongly supportive of government co-investment in local car manufacturers. [The government funding] has generated $1 billion in co-investment from GM and around $4 billion in economic activity,” Mr Thomson told Sky News on Wednesday morning.

“If we’re not prepared to engage, we won’t have an automotive manufacturing industry in Australia and that’s a bad thing. Those jobs are worth fighting for.”

Coalition scrutiny of government spokesman Jamie Briggs said the best way to assist the automotive manufacturing industry was to repeal the carbon tax.

“The car industry is paying $80 million worth of carbon tax. Take that pressure off them and you’ll give them an opportunity to compete.”

Source: Jake Mitchell and Joanna Heath, The Australian Financial Review http://www.afr.com/p/national/agriculture_better_investment_than_TYYe5ebUrbLiQymAMVOx5L